Sunday, January 3, 1999

Time for Xavier to get intense

Rhode Island, Odom first conference test today

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier's first-year players have been warned that the intensity level of games is about to pick up.

        Freshman Lloyd Price watched tape of last year's Xavier-Rhode Island regular-season matchup to see for himself what they were talking about.

• When: 2 p.m. today
• Where: Cincinnati Gardens
• Records: Rhode Island 7-6, Xavier 8-4
• TV: Fox Sports Ohio
• Radio: WLW-AM (700)
• Tickets: Limited number
• 12-1: Xavier's record when Gary Lumpkin has scored 20 or more points during his career
• 54: Combined shooting percentage of XU guards Lumpkin and Lenny Brown the past two games
• 54: Percent of points scored last season by departed Rhode Island players, including 1,093 points totaled by Tyson Wheeler and Cuttino Mobley
        “You never know until you go through the situation, but I'm psyched about it,” Price said. “It's conference play now. You can't make mistakes.

        “It's going to be a lot of fun. I would love for things to keep on going up a notch. I've been waiting for that.”

        Wait no more.

        The Musketeers begin Atlantic 10 Conference play today against Rhode Island at the Gardens (2 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio).

        Xavier has won or shared the A-10 West Division title the past two seasons and is favored to win it again. Rhode Island, one of the top teams in the A-10 East, and XU are the winningest programs in league play over the past two seasons (24-8).

        Last year, XU lost its league opener at St. Bonaventure and didn't secure a piece of the West championship until the final regular-season game against Dayton.

        “We felt like we were digging ourselves out of a hole the whole time,” coach Skip Prosser said. “It's important to win any time, but your first league game sort of sets a tone. It's imperative that we play well.”

        The Musketeers (8-4) have won three straight games rather handily, but this is a different caliber of opponent.

        Rhode Island comes in 7-6 but has a played a tough non-conference schedule, including games against Cincinnati, Vanderbilt, Providence, Wisconsin and Utah.

        The Rams return three of their top five scorers from last season, and that doesn't include 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom, who after 13 career games is already considered one of the best players in the country.

        Odom leads URI in scoring (15.5 ppg), rebounding (8.9) and assists (4.0). He can shoot three-pointers, drive to the basket or post up.

        “If he has his whole game working, he's almost unstoppable,” said Xavier assistant coach Mark Schmidt, who scouted Rhode Island. “You can't cover Odom one-on-one. When he plays well, they usually win; when he doesn't play up to his capability, the team doesn't play as well.”

        The defensive assignment primarily falls to Xavier senior James Posey, who earlier this season was matched against Miami senior Wally Szczerbiak, also considered a top NBA prospect.

        Szczerbiak is stronger and a better pure shooter, but Odom may be a greater challenge because he is surrounded by more talent than Szczerbiak and is taller and quicker.

        “I'll have to be on my toes at all times,” Posey said. “I'm looking forward to going up against him. It's just another challenge. (But) it has to go both ways; he's going to have to guard me also.”

        This is the first of several conference games that will test Xavier's inexperienced inside game. Last season, URI was led by guards Tyson Wheeler and Cuttino Mobley. With both gone, the Rams have become more of a power team, relying on their frontline.

        Rhode Island has 6-9 Luther Clay, a former McDonald's All-American, at center, and 6-7 veteran Antonio Reynolds-Dean and Odom at the forward positions. The Rams have the second-best rebounding margin among A-10 teams (plus 6.6), and also have the best field goal percentage (.456; XU's second at .447).

        The Musketeers counter with Posey, 6-10 Obi Harris — starting just his fourth game — and 6-8 freshman Kevin Frey — starting his seventh.

        “If we don't rebound well against these guys, it could be a long afternoon,” Prosser said.

        Xavier may have this advantage: The Musketeers have been in Cincinnati since returning from California on Tuesday night and had four full days at home to get ready for the game.

        Rhode Island has been on the road all week, playing in Cleveland last Sunday (where it lost to Cleveland State), then at the Sparkletts Invitational in Malibu, Calif., where it lost to Pepperdine Tuesday and defeated Eastern Michigan Wednesday .

        “We beat Rhode Island last year in the A-10 tourney (95-80), and I know they're going to come in here pretty jacked,” Posey said. “Right now we're rolling, so we're just trying to keep that up.”

Xavier Stories
- Time for Xavier to get intense
Season in stories

Reds unveil new uniforms
Fans warm to Larkin
Greene, Baerga to see Red next year?
Hearty fans make it through
Bearcats turn up pressure
Rooster's story typical 'Noles tale
Buckeyes aim to keep squad intact
Cooper impressed with local Buckeyes